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Women's Health

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Breast Lumps - Topic Overview

Breast lumps are common, especially in women ages 30 to 50. A number of conditions can result in a lump or lumps in your breast. Most of these conditions are harmless or of minor concern.

  • Generalized breast lumpiness usually feels like lots of little bumps (nodularity) or as though some areas of the breast are thicker or denser than other areas. Your breasts also may feel tender. The lumps may occur in both breasts around the nipple and in the upper, outer part of the breasts, especially before your menstrual period. The lumps may come and go and change size in just a few days. Generalized lumpiness was once thought to be abnormal and was even called fibrocystic breast disease, but it is so common that it is now considered normal. Breast lumpiness usually goes away after menopause but may be found in women who are taking hormone therapy after menopause.

Following are other types of breast lumps and their symptoms.

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Cysts and abscess lumps

  • Cysts are fluid-filled sacs in the breast. They feel smooth or rubbery and move about under the fingers. They can be quite painful or tender, or they may be painless. Cysts are caused by the hormones that control the menstrual cycle. Cysts are rare in women older than 50 and are not related to breast cancer. If you have a cyst, your doctor may drain (aspirate) it to help relieve the pain and confirm the diagnosis.
  • Sebaceous cysts are caused by plugged ducts at the site of a hair follicle. Like a cyst, they move freely under the fingers. Hormone stimulation or injury may cause them to enlarge. A sebaceous cyst that does not cause symptoms does not require medical treatment. Removal usually involves making a small incision in the skin and removing the entire sac so that it does not return.
  • Abscesses are pockets of infection within the breast. They may be quite painful, and the skin over the breast may be red or feel hot or solid. You may feel feverish or ill. Abscesses are treated with antibiotics and surgery to drain the abscess. They are most common in women who are breast-feeding.
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